* Juliette Whittaker (left) and Isabella Whittaker (right) have made huge statements over the indoor season
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It's safe to say, the Whittaker sisters have arrived in 2020.
Which is kind of amazing, considering this is really just the second year the Mount De Sales Academy (MD) pair has run competitively on the track.
"I was definitely more motivated (this season)," said Juliette, 16, who finished second last year at New Balance Nationals Outdoor in the 800m as a freshman, in 2:05.25. "Placing well in the 800, it gave me confidence to do better this year."
"I'm really excited to see what I can do," added Isabella, 18, who watched her little sister reach Foot Locker Nationals over the fall.
But here we are now, and the Whittaker sisters have truly broken out in a big way this indoor season. Juliette ranks within the nation's top five athletes nationally over five separates distances and has run top 10 all-time efforts in both the 800m and 1,000m.
Isabella, meanwhile, is top 10 in the country across four shorter distances. She signed with the University of Pennsylvania over the National Letter of Intent period.
The duo, who attend the all girls school Mount De Sales, were expected to compete at New Balance Nationals Indoor in New York this weekend -- and both had legitimate opportunities to earn All-American placements in a number of events, if not out right national titles -- though more pressing matters took priority on Wednesday.
The National Scholastic Athletics Foundation cancelled NBNI after careful discussion with its organization's medical staff.
While the Whittaker sisters each had individual goals over the weekend, both were also excited to compete for the school's first national championship as a team. Mount De Sales entered the weekend ranked US No. 1 in the SMR. That hope, however, will have to wait until the outdoor season.
But the question of the season still remains. Just where did this dramatic success come from? How did it happen all so quickly?
"We both have a swimming background," Isabella said, offering a possible solution.
Maybe that's it, a small indication of their foundation. Years before they started churning out fast times on the track, both were swimmers. Juliette stuck to the distance events, the 200 and 500 meter long strokes. Isabella clung to the shorter stuff, races like the 50 and 100 meter sprints.
"I guess I've always been more explosive," Isabella said. "I'm technical about my starts."
While their parents, Paul and Jill, both ran in college, they, too, were different. Paul was a mid-distance runner. Jill was a hurdler. You can guess who the girls say they're most like.
"If I'm thinking about Juliette," Isabella said. "She's more like my dad."
"For me," she continued. "I'm more like my mom."
But even still, it would be hard to compare the two, because they're both very different. Juliette has fared extremely well at a variety of distances, running a 5K PR of 17:16 over the fall in cross country. But her true love has been some of the shorter mid-distance events. And it didn't take long for her to transition to the track in 2020.
* Juliette after New Balance Nationals Outdoor in 2019
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She ran 2:07.54 in the 800m in late December, then posted a 4:44.75 in the mile on January 4. Those performances by themselves were elite, but she continued to improve, scoring the seventh-fastest 1K performance of all-time at a private school invitational on Feb. 1, authoring a time of 2:45.49.
Four weeks later -- amazingly -- she ran 2:03.01 for 800 meters nearly all by herself -- the only help she received was through a pacer that led her through 61 seconds across 400 meters. She was 13 seconds ahead of the next closest competitor. It was the third fastest high school indoor 800 meter run of all-time.
"I wrote down a goal of 2:05, so having done that (that early)," Juliette said, "It was a big confidence booster."
On the other end was Isabella. She watched her sister perform intently. But it was all love. Everything her sister was doing was motivating her just a little bit more.
"I definitely haven't had the opportunity to race against competition as much as Juliette," she said. "But I definitely think that once I get that chance, I like to say, 'I can shock the world' and be up there with all those well known sprinters."
Few would argue that point even now. While the top levels of sprinting are at incredible heights nationwide, Isabella has slowly but surely progressed among the elite in a variety of events.
As a junior over the indoor season, she didn't break 25 seconds in the 200m, 39 seconds in the 300m and 56 in the 400m.
But she's shattered all those marks in 2020, lowering her 200m best to 23.93, her top 300m time to 37.76 and her 400m to 54.84. She has the fourth-fastest 300m, the fifth-fastest 500m, the sixth-fastest 200m and the eight-best 400m.
Only eight girls have broken 24 seconds in the 200m this season. Isabella is one of them. She attributes much of her success to the drill work she performed over the fall. She, too, ran cross country. But if she's being honest, she said, the real work came after practice.
"Some sleds, a lot of form work," she said, adding that her sister always joined her twice a week. "Working on knees, keeping my knees up. A lot of wickets."
The only loss Isabella has had all season came at the Millrose Games in the 300m. But she was beaten by Talitha Diggs, one of the country's top sprinters, by nine-hundredths of a second. Maybe there's a bit of confidence in that.
"I feel like I can hang with anyone side-by-side," she said.
Both remain focused on their goals to continue 2020.
But within that focus is a common denominator: Support of each other.
"The biggest thing I admire about her is her work ethic and how hard she works," Juliette said of Isabella. "She doesn't get discouraged. She uses that and she's so driven and always aims to do better than the last time. I know she's always driven to do better."
"For me," Isabella said, "Juliette has this ability to always show up. She just knows she'll never back down against anyone. Every time she goes on the track, she's trying to out do her last performance."